Read The Gifted Online

Authors: Gail Bowen

The Gifted (21 page)

“But Julian is the one supplying both the comments and the context,” Margot said.

I pivoted to face her. “And he’s manipulating Sally’s words so that Taylor will give him what he wants – sex.”

“What Julian wants is more than sex,” Margot said. “He’s feeding on Taylor’s insecurities about Sally. Julian is telling Taylor that if she wants to make the kind of art her mother made, she needs him.”

“You’re sure about that?” I said.

“Very sure. Declan agonized about breaking Taylor’s confidence, but in the end, he realized he had no choice. Jo, I think Julian is trying to convince Taylor that they can’t exist without each other.”

“Romeo and Juliet,” I said. “Two against the world. Also two who died. That slimeball.”

I was still boiling when I walked into the university. I crossed the atrium and down the hall that led to the fine arts department and found Kaye’s door open. She looked pale, and her hand seemed to tremble as she motioned me to the chair across from her. I wondered if there’d been lingering effects from medication she might have taken for her migraine.

“Julian said you had a migraine yesterday.”

“You saw Julian?”

“Taylor invited him for dinner last night. Actually, that’s why I wanted to see you. Kaye, Zack and I aren’t happy about Taylor’s relationship with Julian.”

Kaye’s face hardened. “Why? She’s painting better than she ever has in her life and it’s because of him. He has a great deal to offer her.”

“And he’s putting a price on it. Did you know that Julian’s encouraging Taylor to have sex with him?”

“It has to be someone,” Kaye said. “Why not Julian?”

I felt my gorge rise, but I kept my voice even. “For starters, Taylor just turned fifteen. She’s still forming ideas about who she is.”

Kaye looked at me blankly. “Taylor knows who she is. She has an incredible gift and she has you and Zack. Taylor will be fine. It’s Julian I’m worried about.” Behind the thick lenses of her glasses, Kaye’s eyes were huge and filled with pain. “I blame myself for the turn his life has taken. When I knew him first, Julian was sweet and hopeful and idealistic. The day I told him that it was unlikely he could succeed as a visual artist, I destroyed all that. It was as if he decided that if he couldn’t make art that people wanted, he’d become an object that people wanted. Now he sees himself as a commodity.”

I was silent for a moment, collecting my thoughts. “Julian is a very disturbed young man, Kaye. You were supposed to be our friend. You were Taylor’s teacher. Why would you expose her to a boy with such serious problems?”

“Because I knew he and Taylor could help each other.” Kaye put up her hand in a Halt sign. “You’re angry now, but hear me out. Julian is not ‘a very disturbed young man.’ Except for the occasional beer, he doesn’t drink. He doesn’t do drugs. He’s not violent. Life dealt him a blow, and he took a wrong path. I believe we’re allowed to do that at nineteen.”

“I agree,” I said. “But being kept by an older woman – that’s a pretty major wrong path – and his involvement with Lauren Treadgold—”

She cut me off. “Julian was always selective. He’s probably had fewer partners than most undergraduates.”

I was furious. “You mean Lauren wasn’t the only one? Taylor has just turned fifteen. What possessed you to offer her up to a man like Julian?”

“I didn’t ‘offer Taylor up.’ You asked me to recommend a model. As someone familiar with Taylor’s work, I knew Julian was what she needed. She and I had agreed on a goal before she began the painting. She wanted to produce a competent piece that showed an understanding of anatomy. Of course, the piece she made went well beyond ‘competent.’ There was something in Julian that Taylor saw and responded to.”

“His grief over the family he never had, the art he’ll never make,” I said.

“Exactly, and that was the other reason that I suggested Julian. Taylor is a very young fifteen. You and Zack have protected her. If she’s going to make the kind of art of which she’s capable, she’s going to have to experience more, feel more. My hope was that Julian would awaken something in Taylor.”

I counted to ten. “Her sexuality?”

“Awareness of her sexuality will open up an entire range of feeling that Taylor still hasn’t tapped into.”

“Because she’s a virgin. Damn it, Kaye, Taylor will ‘tap into’ that range of feeling when she’s ready. Forcing Julian upon her could have done irreparable damage.”

“If Sally were alive—”

“But Sally isn’t alive,” I said. “Luckily for Taylor, she wasn’t raised by someone who would never see anything more in Taylor than her talent. No one is more aware of my shortcomings as a parent for Taylor than I am, but from the time I brought her home I at least saw the whole child. Taylor suffered an unimaginable loss when she was four
years old. She was a very damaged little girl when she came to us, but my children and I did everything we could to let her know she was part of our family. And, of course, Zack thinks the sun rises and sets on her. Taylor’s worked hard to become the girl she is today. I’m not going to stand by and let Julian ruin her life.”

When I picked up my coat, I was shaking. I didn’t say goodbye.

Lena was dressed and ready to go when I got to the hospital. With her Day-Glo pink cast on one arm and Poor Pitiful Pearl in the crook of the other, she was clearly prepared to rock and roll.

“Lena’s discharge papers are signed,” Mieka said. “We have reams of information about how to care for a young grasshopper with a cast, so I guess we’re set.”

“We’re having leftover macaroni and cheese for lunch today,” I said.

Lena beamed. “My favourite – well, one of my favourites.”

“Your mum always says it’s better the second day.”

“I didn’t have it the first day, so I won’t know,” Lena said with impeccable logic.

When we got home, Zack had already set the table. At Lena’s place there was a handmade welcome-home card, a
DVD
of
Charlotte’s Web
, a bag of gummy worms, and a mug with the words
SOME GIRL
spelled out in spidery calligraphy.

After a round of hugs, Mieka started getting lunch on the table. When I offered to help, Mieka waved me off. “You and Zack have done enough. Just relax and get caught up on your mornings.”

So Zack and I went into the living room and sat together on the couch. “So,” I said. “How
was
your morning?”

He stretched lazily. “Not bad at all. James Loftus, the
CEO
of Blackwell, has agreed to set up a mentoring program.”

“So Mr. Loftus succumbed to your charm,” I said.

“Yeah, that, and the fact that I told him Margot was looking into pooled fund management for Peyben and she was leaning towards Blackwell.”

“Is pooled fund management a big deal?”

“Depends on your perspective. Blackwell recommends that any investor considering pooled fund management bring a minimum of $20 million to the table. Peyben will be bringing considerably more than that. Anyway, it’s a good deal for everybody. We get a stellar corporate partner and excellent fund management, and Blackwell gets a whole whack of money to invest.”

“A win–win situation,” I said.

Zack gave me a cat that swallowed the canary smirk. “Yep. So how was your morning?”

“A dead loss,” I said. “We can talk about it later. Right now, I think I could just use a strong arm around my shoulders and some comfort food.”

Lena was an enthusiastic eater. She polished off two helpings of macaroni and cheese, asked for more milk in her
SOME GIRL
mug, ate a handful of gummy worms, and then, saying that it was hard to sleep in the hospital because people were always waking her up, declared she was ready for a nap.

When Mieka came back from tucking in Lena, she seemed weary. “You look like you could use a nap yourself,” I said. “Why don’t you crawl in with Lena for a while?”

Mieka stretched and yawned. “That bed certainly looked tempting, but I have to get back to work. Between UpSlideDown and trying to find a manager for April’s Place, I’m going full out these days.”

“Sure you’re not overdoing it?” I said.

“I go to bed when the kids do. Except for Lena breaking her arm, all’s well.”

“Have you heard from Riel?”

“No, not since he stormed out of the hospital. He’s still among the missing. I had called him last week about putting in some shelves at April’s Place – you remember how great the ice cream stand he built for the girls was. Anyway, he seemed interested, but I haven’t heard from him this week at all.”

“Have you tried calling him?” I said.

“I left him a message this morning saying that Lena was getting out of the hospital today and coming here. Maybe he’ll have the courage to call you. But I’m not going to run after him, Mum. At the moment, I’ve got my hands full taking care of the girls, keeping my business running, and getting April’s Place off to a good start.” Mieka slipped into her coat, bent to kiss Zack, and then embraced me. “Thanks for spoiling my ladies, and for the mac and cheese,” she said. “It really is better the second day.”

After Mieka left, Zack turned to me. “Time for show and tell,” he said. “And it’s your turn. How was your meeting with Kaye?”

“Unsettling,” I said.

As I gave Zack an account of my talk with Kaye, his gaze never left my face. “So Julian is just a nice boy who made a bad life choice,” he said. “Jesus, Jo, if you knew how often I’ve heard trial lawyers, including me, use that defence, you’d know that 99 per cent of the time it’s bullshit.”

Zack’s lips curled in disgust. “I always thought Kaye was a sensible woman. What the hell’s the matter with her?”

“Guilt? I don’t know, and to be honest, right now, I don’t care. There’s more. Margot and I had a talk this morning,
too. Declan told her that Julian is playing some serious mind games with Taylor. He’s trying to convince Taylor that the only way she can make art that’s as significant as Sally’s is through a relationship with him.”

“And Taylor’s buying it.”

“Declan’s afraid that she might be.”

“So where do we go from here?”

“I honestly don’t know. All I know is that our daughter is being torn apart. She loves us.”

“And Julian’s telling her that’s not enough – that all she really needs is him. God, I’d like to clean his clock.”

“I know the feeling, but any hostility on our part will just drive Taylor into Julian’s arms. For the time being, all we can do is stick close to Taylor, try to get her to open up to us, and pray that she doesn’t do something irrevocable.”

Zack was meeting Vince Treadgold at Falconer Shreve at two-thirty. He was still hoping that Vince would be in the clear about Lauren’s death, but he was hedging his bets by introducing Vince to Maisie Crawford and Chad Kichula, another associate of whom Zack thought highly.

I walked him to the door. “I’m glad you’re arranging for Vince to have backup,” I said.

“You think he’s going to need a lawyer,” Zack said.

“I don’t know. Just make sure you get Vince to tell you what Lauren meant when she said she was going to ask him to protect her the way she was protecting him.”

As soon as the words were out of my mouth, I saw the worry in Zack’s eyes. I put my hands on his shoulders. “Hey,” I said. “You’re the one who always says it’s better to know that not know.”

“Yeah,” Zack said. “But not knowing makes it easier to sleep nights.”

——

Lena had just awakened from her nap when the buzzer sounded from the lobby. It was Riel, and he avoided an awkward moment by letting me know that he had gotten back to Mieka and that she had okayed a visit with Lena.

I poured Lena a glass of juice. “That was Riel,” I said. “He’s on his way up. He wants to see you.”

“Will Mummy mind?”

“No, she’s the one who told him you were here. Lena, Riel loves you and Madeleine, and that love doesn’t stop just because he and your mum have problems.”

“So I can just be the way I always am with Riel?”

“Absolutely,” I said.

“Good, because I miss him. Maddy does too.”

“Be sure and let Riel know that,” I said.

Riel was looking better. The hectic glitter was gone from his eyes and his hands were steady. He was carrying a jigsaw puzzle, which he handed to Lena. “I didn’t have a chance to wrap this,” he said, “but I thought it might be something we could do together.” He checked to see my reaction.

I nodded. “Are you up for a puzzle, Lena?”

“You bet,” she said.

“Then get to it,” I said. “And I’ll start dinner.”

Lena and Riel set up their puzzle on the large round coffee table in the living room. Lena was normally a chatty child, but she and Riel worked quietly. Occasionally, they murmured something to each other or exclaimed with delight or disappointment, but they worked diligently, their heads bent to the task at hand, both with dark braids that shone under the overhead light.

By the time they called me in to see the finished puzzle, the chicken was in the oven, the potatoes were peeled, the salad was made, and I was reading a Colm Toibin novel. The puzzle was a picture of the creatures of the rain forest, and it glowed with the vibrant colours of the tropics: a toucan
with a bright yellow chest and an oversized beak; a glistening greenish-brown anaconda; a butterfly with electric blue wings, two brilliantly marked poison dart frogs; a gorilla with a sadly human face – all against a backdrop of lush green foliage.

“Well done,” I said. “Let’s leave it there for Maddy and Taylor and Granddad to see.”

“I’m never going to take it apart,” Lena said.

“If you never take it apart, we’ll never have the fun of putting it back together again,” Riel said.

“Good point,” I said. “Margot sent over some brownies from Evolution this morning, can I interest you two in a snack?”

“You can interest me,” Lena said.

Riel stood. “I’d better get going.”

“Thanks for the puzzle,” Lena said. “It’s really neat.”

Riel hadn’t taken off his jacket. Now he zipped it and reached over and touched Lena’s head. “It was fun spending the afternoon with you.” He turned his eyes to me. “Thanks for letting me stay.”

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